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Viticulture has a long and ancient tradition in Spain, with vines being cultivated 3000 years BC. The Phoenicians founded the city of Gadir (Cadiz today) in around 1100 BC, and maintained a lively trade with wine in the Mediterranean region. The first golden age was around 200 BC, as the Romans loved the wine from Baetica (Andalusia). The development of the wine industry was stopped in 711, when the Moors invaded and conquered Spain. For religious reasons, the Muslims uprooted a large portion of the vineyards, or permitted only the production of raisins. However, they brought with them the art of distilling. It was only 700 years later that the Christians managed to re-establish themselves, and drive the Moors out, planting vineyards on their drive south through Spain. As in many other countries in medieval times, it was mainly monks who maintained viticulture, planting vines close to their monasteries for the production of communion wine. Over the course of the next few centuries viticulture became an important economic factor, and a major export item- From the beginning of the 16th century onward, the conquistadors brought huge quantities of wine to the newly established settlements in the Americas. The Spanish also planted European grape varieties in many regions in America, thus establishing viticulture on that continent as well. They thus made a significant contribution to the development of many countries in the New World.
Phylloxera came to Spain in the second half of the 19th century, destroying most of the vineyards. Initially, Rioja was spared, and by the time it, too, was affected in the early 20th century, most of the vineyards had already been planted with grafted, resistant vines. Because of the devastation by phylloxera, the French were no longer able to supply the demand for wine in their own country. Initially, French merchants purchased large quantities of wine in Spain, later many wine producers emigrated from France to Spain, and started producing wine there. Their sophisticated cellar technology came to have an important influence in Spain, and this is still true today. Political unrest in the early 1930s eventually led to the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, which ended in 1939 with victory by the Nationalists under General Franco. Many vineyards and wineries were destroyed in this time. Following the opening of the borders, and Spains accession to membership of the EU in 1986, Spanish wine got off to a revival. The typical Spanish wines Rioja and Sherry had already experienced a boom starting in 1960. Today, Spain is one of the most dynamic wine producing countries in the world. The country has a total vineyard area of 1.2 million hectares, and an annual production of around 42 million hectolitres of wine (as per 2000), making it one of the largest producers in the world, it is constantly vying with France and Italy for the top rank.
After Switzerland and Albania, Spain is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. Major rivers flow through the country, providing water for the vineyards. The main rivers are the Ebro and Duero in the north, the Tajo (Tagus) in the west, the Guadiana in the south as well as the Júcar and Turia in the east. Spain can be very roughly divided into three climatic zones. In the north is the so-called ”green Spain, including the regions of Aragon, Asturia, the Basque country, Galicia, Cantabria, Catalonia, Navarra and La Rioja. These are characterised by ample rainfall, with hot summers and cold winters. In the centre of the country lies the extensive central plateau called Meseta (table country) including the regions of Extremadura and La Mancha. This region is characterised by extremely hot summers, very cold winters and sparse rainfall. The third zone is the coastal strip, including southern Catalonia, Levante and Andalusiai. Here the ocean breezes temper the hot summers, but rainfall remains low. Over the centuries, around 1.000 different grpae varieties have been cultivated, of which around 600 are still in existence today. Around 15 varieties account for around three quarters of the total vineyard area. Many of the indigenous varieties are only used locally. The white variety Airén is the most widely planted grpae variety in the world, with an area of more than 400.000 hectares. The red Tempranillo is the most important variety for Rioja, while the white Palomino is the key grape for Sherry. The ten most widely planted varieties are:
* Airén (white) 400.000 ha
* GrenacheGrenache Noir = Garnacha (red) 180.000 ha
* Bobal (red) 113.000 ha
* Monastrell (red) 107.000 ha
* Tempranillo (red) 75.000 ha
* Pardina (white) 55.000 ha
* Macabeo (white) 46.000 ha
* Palomino (white) 36.000 ha
* Pedro Ximénez (white) 27.000 ha
* Parellada (white) 18.000 ha
A new classification system involving controlled designations of origin (Denominación de Origen) was introduced in 1970, based on the wine regulations in France and Italy. To date, around half the total vineyard area has been awarded DO status, with a strongly rising trend. As per 2002, there were around 60 DOs (of which two had the highest classification, DOCa, see below). Around 70% of wine produced in Spain is basic table wine, or wine for mass consumption. The name of the DO is stated on the label above the words „Denominación de Origen” (for example Alicante, Ribera del Guadiana or Tarragona), with exceptions only for the sparkling wine cava, and for sherry. In these cases the names, as it were, speak for themselves. Cava, in fact, is a „D.” wine only, not a D.O., as it refers to the style of wine, and may come from several wine-growing regions. The Regions and districts with their classified regions (DO, DOCa or Vino de Pago (single vineyard, see below) are as follows:
* Condado de Huelva 7.500 ha
* Jerez (DO for sherry) 10.500 ha
* Malaga 1.200 ha
* Montilla-Moriles 10.000 ha
* Sierras de Malaga 1.200 ha
* Calatayud 7.300 ha
* Campo de Borja 7.200 ha
* Cariñena 15.200 ha
* Somontano 2.900 ha
Balearic islands 2.200 ha
* Plà i Llevant
* Chacolí de AlavaChacoli (Arabako Txakolina)
* Chacolí de GuetariaChacolí (Getariako Txakolina) 150 ha
* Chacolí de VizcayaChacolí (Bizkaiko Txakolina)mit 140 ha
* Ribera del Guadiana 13.200 ha
* Monterrei 550 ha
* Rías Baixas 2.200 ha
* Ribeira Sacra 1.200 ha
* Ribeiro 3.000 ha
* Valdeorras 1.500 ha
* Bierzo 3.900 ha
* Cigales 2.750 ha
* Ribera del Duero 18.600 ha
* Rueda 6.200 ha
* Toro 4.000 ha
Canary Islands 8.000 ha
* Abona 2.200 ha
* El Monte 450 ha
* Lanzarote 2.300 ha
* Tacoronte-Acentejo 1.800 ha
* Valle de Güìmar 750 ha
* Valle da la Orotava 670 ha
* Ycoden-Daute-Isora 1.450 ha
* Alella 560 ha
* Ampurdán-Costa Brava (Empordá-Costa Brava) 2.300 ha
* Catalunya 3.600 ha
* Cava (transregional DO) 32.000 ha
* Conca de Barberà 6.000 ha
* Costers del Segre 4.000 ha
* Montsant 1.800 ha
* Penedès 26.500 ha
* Pla del Bages 500 ha
* Priorato (DOCa) 1.400 ha
* Tarragona 11.000 ha
* Terra Alta 8.300 ha
La Mancha 200.000 ha
* Almansa 7.600 ha
* Dominio de Valdepusa (Vino de Pago)
* Finca Elez (Vino de Pago)
* Manchuela 4.100 ha
* Méntrida 12.800 ha
* Mondéjar 750 ha
* Ribera del Júcar
* Valdepeñas 29.000 ha
* Alicante 14.500 ha
* Bullas 2.300 ha
* Jumilla 41.300 ha
* Utiel-Requena 40.000 ha
* Valencia 17.000 ha
* Yecla 4.300 ha
Navarra 17.300 ha
Rioja (DOCa, 3 sub-regions) 62.000 ha
Vinos de Madrid (3 sub DO´s) 11.800 ha
The central organ in Spain responsible for all quality wines is the INDO (Instituto Nacional de Denominaciónes de Origen), with a separate controlling council being responsible for each individual DO region, the „Consejo Regulador”. This council is made up of representatives of the grape growers, wine producers, merchants, biochemists and representatives of the department of agriculture. This body sets up the „Reglamento”, defining permitted rgape varieties, permitted rootstocks. Maximum permitted yields in hectolitres per hectare, vine density, pruning regulations and production methods (type of maturation, alcohol level, residual sugar content, values for dry extract). In addition, the council has to agree to new plantings of vines. The wines are released for sale only after a committee of the council has tasted each wine. The individual levels of quality are:
Vino de Mesa (VdM): This corresponds to the lowest level of quality in the EU, table wine. It is generally a blend of wines from different regions. The label will state „Vino de Mesa, Product of Spain”, plus usually a brand name. The vintage and region of origin may not be stated. However, there are some specifically permitted exceptions, in which case one may state a region or province after the term „Vino de Mesa”, which may not be the same as one of the officially classified DOs, as well as the vintage.
Vino de la Tierra (VdlT): This corresponds to the EU category country wine. A Vino de Mesa which states „Vino de la Tierra” must also state the variety or varieties used, as well as the grographic origin. A minimum alcohol level is specified. The wines are subject to a taste test before release. The label must state a region or commune, for example „Vino de la Tierra de La Mancha”. There are around 30 classified zones for this category.
Indicación Geográfica Viñedos de España: A designation of origin for quality wines from special areas of origin, newly introduced in August 2006. It amy be used for country wines, liqueur wines, wines from overripe grapes as well as for perlé wines, if they are sourced from the regions classified as Vino de la Tierra. The designation is permitted in some cases on a transregional basis for eleven autonomous regions, as well as for the Balearic and Canary islands: some communes are excluded. The category is not available in the Basque region, in Galicia, Castilia-León and La Rioja, by specific decree of the local regional authorities. The white wines must have a minimum alcohol content of 11% vol and a minimum acidity of 4 g/l, red wines must have at least 12% vol and 4 g/l.
Vino de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica (VCIG): A Vino de la Tierra (country wine) with a controlled designation of origin. This is a new level of quality, introduced in 2003, and is the equivalent of the IGT category in Italy. It is a preliminary stage for classification as a DO.
Denominación de Origen (DO): This corresponds to the DOC in Italy and to the AOC in France. The region must have been classified as „Vino de Calidad Indicación Geográfica” region for a minimum of five years. The grapes must be sourced from the stated region, which must have an „elevated level of prestige”. The special characteristics must be derived from the geographical origin. A „Consejo Regulador” must be appointed to control the regulations. There are around 60 classified DO´s, with a strong growth.
Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa): This corresponds with the DOCG in Italy. This highest classification of quality was introduced in 1988. It is only awarded to wines from outstanding regions, in which the production is subject to particularly strict controls. The grapes must be sourced from registered vineyards. The region must first have had DO status for a minimum of ten years. There is a more rigorous selection of grape varieties, lower maximum yields are defined, and the maturation regulations are even more strict. The wines must prove their consistently high quality over a period of several years. The wines are subject to chemical analysis, and an organoleptic test. The wines may only be marketed in bottles, and must be bottled by the producer. So far, only two regions have been classified in this category, Rioja in 1991 and Priorato in 2001. The Penedès and Ribera del Duero regions are considered to be the next candidates.
Vino de Pago: This category of quality was introduced in 2003, and refers to wines from special single vineyards. A „Pago” is an area of land with a so-called edaphic character (vegetation determined by soil and climate). It must be characterised by an own microclimate, which must differentiate it from its environment. The site must traditionally be known to produce wines of exceptional quality (the name of the site should have been in use for a minimum of five years to designate special wines). The single vineyard site may not be of the same size or larger than the communal or municipal boundary within which it is located. There must be a quality control system in place that must comply at least with the regulations for a DOCa. If the entire vineyard site is located within a DOCa, the designation „Vino de Pago Calificado” may be used, provided the requirements of the DOCa have been complied with. From this it can be deduced that a Pago does not necessarily have to be located within a region classified as a DO or DOCa. To date, only two sites have been classified, they are Dominio de Valdepusa and Finca Elez, both of which are in the La Mancha region (previously not DO or DOCa).
The bottle label gives various indications related to the contents of the bottle, for example on the degree of sweetness (seco = dry, semiseco = off-dry, abocado = semi-sweet, dulce = sweet), the type of wine (Cava = sparkling wine, Clarete = light red wine, Tinto = dark red wine, Rosado = rosé wine, Generoso = aperitif or dessert wine). Traditionally, Spanish wines are only offered for sale once they are ready to drink. There are specific regulations for each tape of wine, stating for how long they must be matured in wooden barrels resp. in bottles. Top-quality wine estates frequently mature the wines for significantly longer than required. The following specifications relate to red wines. White and rosé wines need only be matured in barrel for six months, and can be released for sale a year sooner than the red wines however, only rarely are white or rosé Reservas or Gran Reservas produced.
Joven: Designation for a young wine sold in the year after the vintage, which has spent only little (maximum of six months) or or no time maturing in barrel. These wines are meant to be drunk while they are young.
Crianza: Literally, this means training, and refers to maturation. The wines must be matured for a minimum of 24 months before being released for sale, of which six months must be in oak barrels, and 18 months in bottle. See also under Crianza.
Reserva: These wines must be matured for a minimum of 36 months before being sold, of which a minimum of 12 months must be in oak barrels, the remainder in bottle. This designation is limited to DO and DOCa wines. See also under Reserva.
Gran Reserva: These wines must be matured at the winery for a minimum of 60 months, of which at least 18 months (was 24 months until 2005) in oak barrels, the remainder in bottle. This designation is limited to DO and DOCa wines.
Maturation classification: Independently of the rules for Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, there are additional designations that may be used, depending on the duration and type of maturation. These are Añejo (24 months) Noble (18 months) and Viejo (36 months). It should be noted that these designations are controversial in Spain, as they attest a „better quality” to a wine purely on the basis of its age.